Tour Report 30th November - 2nd December


30th November – 2nd December 2018


Tour Leaders: Stephen Moss & Graeme Mitchell

Guests: Helen & Derrick, Anthea & Sue, Janet & Stephen

Friday 30th November

 As the Starlings had recently been coming into roost rather earlier than expected, after meeting at Walls Farm we headed straight down to the RSPB reserve at Ham Wall, in the heart of the Avalon Marshes.

En route we saw a few Fieldfares, Pheasants and a Little Egret (on Tealham Moor), while almost as soon as we got out of ‘Thunderbird 1’ a Marsh Harrier flew over the car park! The path down to the viewing platform was rather quiet, until two flocks of about 20 Lesser Redpolls appeared in the alders, and flitted overhead.

            From the first viewing platform we enjoyed excellent views of a Great White Egret – the first of dozens we saw during the course of the trip – accompanied by six species of wintering ducks: Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal and the odd one out, the diving Tufted Duck. There were also Little Grebe, Cormorant, Coots, Water Rails calling, brief views of a female Marsh Harrier, and the first of up to 100 Lapwings which kept flying in to roost on the scrape, until frightened away temporarily by a Buzzard (which also flushed about 6 Snipe). We were as yet unaware that the Lapwing was to prove to be the bird of the weekend, with several thousand seen! Some of the group went down to the Tor View Hide with Graeme and were rewarded with brief views of a Kingfisher.

            The first Starlings arrived at 15.39 – surprisingly as it was still sunny and bright, the late afternoon light flooding the scrape and giving us great views of the birds there. Over the next half hour or so more and more Starlings came into the roost – perhaps 100,000 birds in all – and to our delight they went in to land in full view in the Walton’s Marsh reedbed, right by where we were standing, turning the reeds black! They were accompanied by more Great White Egrets, singing Cetti’s Warblers and Wrens, and a flypast of about 30 Greylag Geese. We left at dusk, and returned to Walls Farm having enjoyed a very impressive display from the Starlings.

 Saturday 1st December

 After heavy rain we arrived at the Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Catcott Lows reserve at 9.45, having seen lots of birds en route, including Pheasants, Herring Gulls and Buzzards sitting in the fields, where they feed on worms. We were greeted at Catcott by at least 1000 Lapwings over the hide, milling about in the sky and occasionally twisting and turning or dropping rapidly down to the ground.

            On entering the hide, we were delighted to see that the reshaping of the area in front has really paid off, as the large numbers of Wigeon were mostly very close to the hide, as were the Lapwings, enabling us to get close-up views of the subtle beauty of these birds’ plumage through our telescopes.

We also enjoyed views of a pair of Stonechats on the reed-mace; several Great White Egrets (including one showing off his reflection in a perfect pose), Shoveler, Teal, a pair of Pintail, and (briefly) a female Sparrowhawk. At the end the Lapwings all rose into the air and flew off to the south.

            We then headed south, across the Polden Hills to the RSPB’s reserve at Greylake, where we were soon watching a huge flock of 2000+ Lapwings, accompanied, to our delight, by perhaps 500 Golden Plovers. These have been scarce on the levels in recent years so it was great to see so many here. Along the path to the hide we heard two Cetti’s Warblers (duetting or, more likely, in a ‘sing-off’), and from the hide lots of Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Mallard, a single Snipe, a Buzzard on a post and, on the way out, a calling Chiffchaff which remained stubbornly elusive. Back at the car park a Dunnock was showing well.

            After a splendid lunch at our regular stop, King Alfred’s Inn at Burrowbridge, we drove along the (very flooded) Parrett, and stopped to search for the elusive flock of Cranes. Unfortunately, they failed to oblige on this occasion, but we did see Redwing, Fieldfare and heard an early singing (and calling) Mistle Thrush, a surprisingly scarce bird on the levels. We also saw Great White and Little Egrets, helpfully side by side as they fed on the flooded field.

            We arrived at the WWT reserve at Steart Marshes just before 3 pm, and immediately enjoyed views of our second pair of Stonechats of the day; several Shelducks were also flying around. As always, the Quantock Hide delivered a great range and number of birds: lots of Wigeon, flocks of Dunlin, a few Redshank, 1000 Lapwings and 500 Golden Plovers, and best of all, three splendid juvenile Spoonbills. These birds have been here for a while now (they may have come from the new breeding colony in North Norfolk, or perhaps the Netherlands), but are normally quite distant – yet just as we arrived they obligingly flew over towards us and started to feed.

            Having enjoyed these, we walked over to the Mendip Hide, seeing at least three hunting Kestrels (Hopkins’ ‘windhover’, showing how they got that name), and flyover Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. Then, with dusk rapidly approaching, we drove down to Wall Common. Immediately we got out of the car about 1000 Lapwings flew up, pursued by a Merlin, which unfortunately then flew off. The tide was way out so we only had distant views of Dunlin and Curlew, but as we were walking back to the car we spotted a Peregrine which flew low and landed in a grassy field, from where it gave good but distant views until it finally flew off into the gloaming.

 Sunday 2nd December

 Morning dawned rather damp, and as we drove over towards the Mendips the sky got even darker and greyer, as the rain began to fall more heavily. We parked at the Axbridge end of Cheddar Reservoir, yet miraculously as we reached the top of the path that runs around the water the rain stopped!

            The water levels were still very low, which meant many of the ducks, gulls and cormorants were sitting out on the dry mud. The ducks were mostly Pochard, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Tufted, but we picked out a female or immature Scaup (a scarce bird here in Somerset) diving rapidly for food, and a far more obliging (and attractive) male Mandarin Duck nearer to us – a look through the scope revealed its beauty.

There were no fewer than five species of gulls – Black-headed, Herring, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed – about 100 Mute Swans, lots of winter-plumage Great Crested Grebes, and thousands of Coots. Stephen managed to spot the winter-plumage Great Northern Diver (or as our American friends call it, Common Loon!) not far offshore – this bird had only arrived the day before so was good to see.

            For our final stop, we headed over to Graeme and Stephen’s coastal patch, the ‘three rivers’ of the Huntspill, Brue and Parrett. The Huntspill proved rather birdless (just Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe, Mute Swan and Moorhen), though we did see a couple of Little Egrets and some Rooks feeding in the field; but as we arrived by the sluice things began to look up. Across the Parrett, a flock of around 300 Avocets was feeding, along with the usual other waders, gulls and Shelducks, and hundreds of Teal.

            We then walked the mile or so down to the Brue, getting great scope views of a male Kestrel on a post, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, c50 Redshanks, a calling Grey Plover, a few Avocets heading up river, more Curlews, about 100 Linnets and, best of all, a Raven calling and showing well. As we walked back along the Brue we saw a flock of about 55 Canada Geese, a few Curlews, another male Kestrel and the ubiquitous Little Egret, before reaching the end of our walk – and the tour – at Highbridge Clyce.

Our happy crew at Greylake

Our happy crew at Greylake

Graeme Mitchell